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Buyer's Handbook:

How to choose marketing automation software

Evaluate Weigh the pros and cons of technologies, products and projects you are considering.

Marketing automation tools deliver personalization, customer focus

When buying a marketing automation product, it's important to consider key features, how the tool addresses the organization's size, deployment options, support and pricing.

As marketing automation becomes increasingly central to competitive campaign deployment and lead nurturing, marketing automation tools are increasing customer targeting accuracy and content effectiveness, and aligning sales and marketing functions.

Once an organization has surveyed the features available and the decisions necessary to select the right product, it's time to examine offerings from leading marketing automation vendors.

Note that these marketing automation tools are broken into two groups: stand-alone marketing automation tools that can work alongside a CRM suite and marketing automation that's fully integrated into a CRM suite. The former can work when an enterprise has a CRM suite already in place, but wants to add marketing automation. The latter is best for first-time CRM buyers or for established CRM users who want expanded, more granular marketing automation features.

Stand-alone marketing automation tools

Adobe Marketing Cloud

The Adobe Campaign module, which provides Adobe Marketing Cloud's automation, offers utilities to support campaign scaling as well as matching offers and messages to customers. Designed for midsize and enterprise organizations, notable features of this module include the following:

  • Triggered emails. Automated emails can be generated in reaction to a user's web browsing behavior. These event-triggered emails can include information such as confirmations, registrations and personal messaging for special events, such as birthdays and anniversaries. These emails are designed to prompt customers to promote an organization's products or services via social sharing, feedback solicitation and review. Automated completion prompts for key tasks, such as following through on a purchase or watching a video, can be triggered via Adobe Analytics, by analyzing page views and click throughs.
  • Offer management. Marketers can create a rules-based offer catalog that enables them to assign a weight and priority to offers and track presentation to customers. They can set up rules to personalize offers based on a range of criteria. Eligibility rules and application themes can help manage automated matching of offers to customers. Personalization can be by channel with offer content automated.
  • SMS and push notifications. Mobile platform interaction is optimized by the automated management of segmented push notifications to phone and tablet apps, as well as rich-media SMS and auto-reply. These emails can be mobile-responsive and personalized. A software development kit enables mobile apps for the iOS and Android platforms to integrate with Adobe Campaign.

Support: Online, knowledge base, tutorials, consulting services and Experience Cloud.

Pricing: Available only via a quote.

Possible downside: Some users report a steep learning curve.

HubSpot Marketing Hub

Marketing automation tools are broken into two groups: stand-alone marketing automation tools that can work alongside a CRM suite and marketing automation that's fully integrated into a CRM suite.

HubSpot Marketing Hub provides highly automated lead nurturing and strong personalized workflow functionality. The platform focuses on attracting customers to marketing pages through easy-to-use SEO, social media integration and flexible content management. Designed for companies of all sizes, notable features include the following:

  • Lead management. Sales communications automatically publish to a lead's timeline. A convenient lead activity summary enables refined campaign targeting.
  • Campaign automation. An email drip utility for email campaign automation moves leads forward through the sales pipeline. Email content management is codeless and is done with triggers, conditions and actions for easy targeting. Sophisticated workflows further enable multi-stage customer journey personalization. Segmentation logic is available to facilitate workflow enrollment.
  • Marketing analytics. This functionality provides data-driven reporting and dashboards for performance measurement and tracks the complete customer lifecycle. Web analytics measures marketing site performance and provides channel-by-channel reporting on all marketing assets.
  • Inbound marketing. This includes a full suite of inbound communication features, including a drag-and-drop content management system, cross-device landing pages, blogging, email templates and calls to action.

Support: Online, phone, knowledge base and 24/7 live chat.

Pricing: HubSpot offers four plans, including a free version. Starter begins at $50 a month. Professional begins at $800 per month, and Enterprise begins at $3,200 per month. All paid plans are billed annually.

Possible downside: Some users say that reporting is somewhat generic and that automated campaign results are difficult to track.

Marketo Engagement Platform

A fall 2018 Adobe acquisition, Marketo is a broad engagement platform with marketing automation features that include lead identification and nurturing, as well as relationship management features directed at long-term development. The platform is designed for companies of all sizes and includes these notable features:

  • Social media integration. This includes tools for customer engagement, brand-advocate management, polls and referrals, content sharing and integration of social metrics.
  • Audience Hub. This is an engagement hub for orchestrating customer experiences, personalizing customer interactions, integration and analytics-driven predictive messaging.
  • Digital ads. Cross-channel interaction produces customer segmentation by preferences and interests. Bid optimization uses Google AdWords by integrating social media monitoring with face-to-face sales activity. Audience Hub feedback personalizes retargeted ads on social media sites.
  • Intelligent forms. This feature provides HTML-free landing-page generation, including social form fills and personalized questions.
  • Marketo Moments. This mobile app provides marketers with immediate access to campaign performance metrics and enables them to review and modify scheduled events.

Support: Online, phone, assigned consultant, email and online chat.

Pricing: Spark is $1,195 to $2,495 per month for 100,000 leads. Standard is $1,995 to $7,195 per month for 500,000 leads. Select is $3,195 to $11,995 per month for 1 million leads.

Possible downside: Some users report a steep learning curve and that the landing-page building utility isn't comprehensive.

Oracle Eloqua

Oracle Eloqua marketing automation tools feature strong personalization features and the ability to construct dynamic customer journeys. Designed for companies of all sizes, notable features include the following:

  • Campaign analysis and management. Marketers can easily personalize cross-channel campaigns, which can be created and modified with a convenient drag-and-drop interface. Audience segmentation can be based on behavioral discriminators.
  • Contact profiling, targeting and segmentation. Customer data is consolidated from multiple sources and is available in a single integrated interface. Customer preferences and sentiment can be monitored across channels. Triggers can be embedded in customer profiles to enable real-time responses.
  • Lead management. Leads can be scored based on behavioral data and profile information from the consolidated customer data. Different models may be applied to any particular lead, including account-based leads. Marketers can monitor leads for changes that affect scoring via a listener framework. This feature offers standard integration with several CRM systems.
  • Sales and marketing alignment. Customer and revenue data can be consolidated for use by sales and marketing, increasing the level of detail available to the latter. Personalized marketing messages via email can be generated across the martech stack
  • Insights. This reporting feature measures marketing campaign performance and other marketing activities. It integrates with Oracle Business Intelligence Server to provide dashboard and custom report content. Marketers can use subject areas to aggregate metrics for data-driven campaign assessment.

Support: Online, phone and critical-issue response in one hour.

Pricing: Basic is $2,000 per month for 10,000 contacts and Standard is $4,000 per month for 10,000 contacts and up to 50 marketing users. Contact Eloqua for Enterprise pricing.

Possible downside: Some users report a steep learning curve and that the email editor is difficult to use.

Editor's note: Using extensive research into the marketing automation market, TechTarget editors focused this article series on marketing automation vendors with leading market share. Our research included internal reports, as well as material from other respected research firms, including Gartner and Forrester.

Salesforce Pardot

A B2B-specific Salesforce tool, Pardot is strong on analytics and, in particular, the consolidation of customer information in a centralized location and format. Designed for companies of all sizes, notable features include the following:

  • Lead generation. Smart forms with progressive profiling collect new information with each interaction. A landing-page builder is integrated with marketing and sales workflows. It enables the monitoring of social campaign interactions, as well as one-step multi-platform posting and scheduling for social campaigns. This feature also supports Google AdWords keyword performance tracking.
  • Lead management. Leads are nurtured via triggered emails based on customized parameters keyed to marketer interactions. Prospect engagement is scored as part of lead qualification. Content personalization enables highly targeted offers. Automation makes segmented customer lists dynamic.
  • Sales alignment. Marketers can create mini-campaigns for individual sales reps. Real-time alerts support rapid sales response. CRM integration supports ROI analysis of marketing campaigns. Customer insights can be easily transferred to sales.
  • Email marketing. This includes an intuitive visual editor for email building and a library of templates.  Email sends, segmentation and responders for forms and landing pages are all automated, and content for prospect engagement is dynamically selected.
  • ROI reporting. Marketers can easily monitor sales funnel health as part of lifecycle reporting, with notification of stalled leads. Campaign ROI is measured and tracked by channel. Email engagement is analyzed and summarized along with basic web metrics.

Support: Online, phone and client advocate.

Pricing: Growth is $1,250 per month. Plus is $2,500 per month, and Advanced is $4,000 per month. Each plan supports up to 10,000 contacts and is billed annually.

Possible downside: Some users say that the onboarding process is difficult and that Pardot's B2B adherence is highly inflexible.

CRM suites with integrated marketing automation

Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing 

The Microsoft Dynamics 365 marketing platform offers several marketing automation strengths, including tracking of marketing performance and AI-driven market insights that exploit social media. The platform is designed for companies of all sizes. Notable features include the following:

  • Lead generation and management. The multichannel campaign capability includes custom channels. Reusable content blocks enable personalized buyer experiences. A connector is available for LinkedIn lead-gen forms. This feature also includes multiple lead-scoring models and sales-readiness grading.
  • Event management. An online portal enables organizations to promote live or webinar events, and includes an event and speaker scheduling utility and registration features.
  • Marketing and sales alignment. Features include account-based marketing, a unified customer view, and campaign timelines built into marketing calendars. The Office 365 tool set is embedded.
  • Account-based marketing. Nurturing of account-level leads can be orchestrated with personalized content -- targeting account-based prospects by potential revenue -- for marketing resource optimization.
  • Customer experience personalization. A drag-and-drop designer enables marketers to create automated multichannel campaigns. Automation includes nested workflows, follow-up notifications and event triggers. Customized campaigns can react automatically to individual customer interaction. Custom campaigns can be monitored and the results analyzed.
  • Multichannel monitoring. Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights generates data from multiple sources, including landing pages, emails and events, and integrates social media monitoring data from an assortment of social platforms.
  • Social engagement. Social media monitoring enables marketers to measure brand awareness, reputation, sentiment and issues. The insights can help them generate actionable intelligence.

Support: Subscription support, various levels of technical support response and unlimited technical resource access.

Pricing: The stand-alone product is $1,500 per month for up to 10,000 contacts. Pricing for Dynamics 365 for Marketing with customer engagement application starts at $750 per month. Contact Microsoft for pricing for the Dynamics 365 for Marketing with customer engagement plan, which includes 2,000 contacts, and other plans.

Possible downside: Some users report a steep learning curve and that integrations, search function and customizability need improvement.

Oracle Marketing Cloud

Oracle's Marketing Cloud focuses on customer acquisition as well as customer retention, is highly flexible with channels and provides exhaustive analytics. Designed for midsize and enterprise organizations, notable features include the following:

  • ID Graph. The Marketing Cloud consolidates customer data across channels, devices and platforms by combining disparate identifiers into a single unified view. It can connect more than 90% of online U.S. households, enhancing targeting accuracy.
  • Data management platform. This platform coordinates data between enterprise systems, including CRM, and web apps and resources. It parses customer data and segmentation for campaign structuring by device.
  • Cross-channel orchestration. Individualized customer journeys can be orchestrated across channels -- email, mobile, commerce and push -- from a single point. Experiences can be triggered via customer preferences, behaviors or profile data.
  • Social marketing. Latent semantic analysis is used to cull insights from social media, and customers can be engaged across social channels.
  • Mobile marketing. Personalized mobile messaging includes cross-channel alignment, messaging via SMS and MMS, and in-app experiences.
  • Commerce. Online shopping interactions and shopping cart experience can be personalized.
  • Marketing analytics. Analysis-by-audience enables fine-tuning of campaigns at a granular level, measuring engagement and revenue.

Support: Oracle Cloud Support, 24/7 phone and online, and critical issue response within an hour; upgrade assistance.

Pricing: Basic is $2,000 per month for up to 10,000 contacts, and Standard is $4,000 per month for up to 10,000 contacts. Contact Eloqua for enterprise pricing.

Possible downside: Some users report a steep learning curve.

Editor's note: TechTarget offers account-based marketing and project intelligence data, tools and services.

Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Salesforce's general marketing automation tools are broad in scope, covering B2B and B2C, and enable marketers to build out one-to-one customer journeys. Features include cross-channel campaigns and a CRM interface for one-to-one advertising utility. Designed for companies of all sizes, notable features include the following:

  • Email, mobile and web marketing. Marketers can build personalized, automated customer journeys for email, mobile or web. The product offers a campaign management suite, and email marketing and mobile messaging tools. The Journey Builder design tool connects customer interactions across platforms to create smooth customer experiences.
  • Social media marketing. Functionality includes social media monitoring and brand sentiment analysis, a social community engagement utility and content marketing.
  • B2B market automation. This provides lead generation and nurturing automation and optimization across the prospect lifecycle, and includes qualification and tracking features.

Support: Online, phone, knowledge base, tutorials, Trailhead and Success Cloud.

Pricing: Annual subscriptions for various modules; contact Salesforce for a quote.

Possible downside: Some users report that the Email Studio interface isn't user friendly, it's too expensive for small businesses and implementation can be lengthy.

SAP Marketing Cloud

The SAP Marketing Cloud's Customer Experience module enables marketers to group customers into segments for more efficient communication and features useful scenario-fit functionality for customizing experiences specifically for those groups. The module includes an e-commerce platform for marketers, is big data-friendly, and offers strong integration features and customer behavior analysis. Designed for companies of all sizes, notable features include the following:

  • Segmentation and campaign management. Management features include spend optimization through focused channel selection and high audience engagement, as well as a strong campaign look-and-feel utility. Dynamic customer profiles enable real-time customer individualization.
  • Customer profiling. Multichannel transactional and behavioral data enables dynamic profiling. Propensity models identify hidden trends in customer behavior, with predictive analytics anticipating future behaviors.
  • Commerce marketing. Marketers can personalize customer experiences -- such as shopping, comparing and buying -- based on behavioral data from previous interactions. Dynamic profiling enables micro-segmentation, with highly focused offers and product recommendations.
  • Marketing analytics. Analytics tools include a leads dashboard, a chief marketing officer dashboard, Customer Journey Insight, marketing campaign performance and spend analysis. Machine learning functionality is embedded in customer insights, personalization and optimization features.

Support: Online, phone and community forum, help wiki portal and tutorials.

Pricing: Available only via a quote.

Possible downside: Some users report the module may be too complex for small businesses.

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Buyer's Handbook: How to choose marketing automation software

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Which of the marketing automation products noted here is your organization planning to implement, and why?
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